Aug 5, 2013
12:49 PM
Steve Says:

Notes from Casual Connect

I mentioned that I was at Casual Connect last week. Unfortunately I didn’t get as much benefit out of it as I’d hoped. I attended lectures Tuesday, but with a locked jaw I really wasn’t feeling attending on Wednesday. I made an effort to get over to see one lecture in particular called “Forget the Fu*king Press” but was disappointed to find it cancelled.

I had actually acquired my pass by volunteering at Casual Connect. I was supposed to help watch over the Indie Showcase, but knowing that conversation was only going to aggravate my locked jaw, I had my position switched so that I would be checking badges instead. Unfortunately, this still required enough talking that by mid day, my face felt exhausted and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to last the rest of the day. I’m embarrassed to say that I wasn’t able to stick it out but at the same time there wasn’t a single person that I stopped to check their badge that didn’t already have one squirreled away in a pocket or backpack. I suspect that my aid wasn’t really required.


At any rate, the lectures themselves were alright, but it’s hard to take much away from a conference directed at social/casual games when that’s not really what you’re developing. The format of the presentations made it so that the content was somewhat limited as well. I guess the idea is, your gamers only want to play games for about 20 minutes at a time therefore the developers must only want to have information thrown at them for 20 minutes at a time. It’s tough to instill any meaningful insight in a 20 minute conversation where part of that time is devoted to introducing who you are.


Here are the different lectures I attended, and the notes that I took whilst there:

Self-Publish or Die:

  • By Will Harbin, CEO of Kixeye
  • Kixeye has grown from about 5 to 500 employees in 4 years
  • Publishers are obsolete in the free-to-play model
  • Free-to-Play really is the new model of business for games
  • If you can make a game,  you can publish a game
  • It doesn’t make sense to let people take a cut of your money for essentially no work
  • Set up an ad account and buy ads
  • Don’t share your revenue or control
  • Different sectors to be aware of on the business end of things: marketing, community, game analytics, user acquisition, support, and insight
  • The key is to make sure that the long term value of a user is greater than the cost per install
  • You want the cost per click to be low: ie. organic/viral sharing of your game
  • You want the cost per install to be low: ie. fantastic new user experience -> Hook them quickly
  • You want high retention with good metrics: ie. what did users experience before quitting?
  • Mechanics must be supported by the art style.
  • You must be different
  • Be platform agnostic and be versatile

Three Things to Think About When Designing Free-to-Play Games

  • By Tim Letourneau, CCO of Zinga
  • There’s been a journey to free-to-play… markets evolve
  • Don’t be afraid of commercial art. The Sistine Chapel is commercial art. Sometimes you need to do what is required to earn money. Sometimes, that’s free-to-play.
  • Do what will be satisfying -and- financially beneficial -> but don’t be afraid to cater to your market
  • Bejeweled and Candy Crush Saga are essentially the same game
  • Free to play must, must pull people in immediately and keep them for the long term or else they will lose their audience.
  • You need to engage, and supply the audience with new things to keep them around
  • Lessons Learned:
  • -The future comes fast
  • -What is the experience you will deliver in the future?
  • -Have a long term creative vision, otherwise you risk fragmenting your game as you race to create new content at any cost. You need Creative Pillars.
  • Have a tight economy. People don’t want it to be too easy, or too complex.
  • Make things social. Build a community, and make them want to share their community with others
  • (I somehow either missed the “three things” to think about… or it just wasn’t really listed and became more of a “things” to think about.)

Start-up Survival Lessons for Indie Developers

Building an Amazing Studio Culture – There is More to it than Just Free Lunches

  • Josh Nilson, Co-Founder of East Side Games -> Tim Teh, Co-Founder of Kano Apps -> Emily Greer, Co-Founder of Kongregate -> Sonia Ryan, People Culture and Outreach at A Thinking Ape
  • Really this was a conversation between the different people on their views of why the culture at their company works.
  • The take away is basically, this needs to be more than just a place of business. Respect your employees, and do what you can to make sure they belong and mingle with one another.
  • Have a creed/belief and go with it
  • Think of these people as extended family
  • There is no silver bullet, you need your own culture
  • Don’t do everything through email. New people need to see that there is a culture / legacy.

EMERGING TRENDS: Global “Micro-indie” Development

  • By Steve Felter, CEO of Gamesalad
  • Only 10% of indies will make enough money to be able to quit their day job
  • It will take about 10+ games released before you’ll be profiting at over $15k per game
  • Taken from Owen Goss’s 2011 iOS revenue survey
  • Takeaway from this is that persistence pays… but not much
  • Indie Advantages include speed, agility, risk taking, and cost structure. If you aren’t taking advantage of these… why are you indie?

The Five Mind-Myths of the Micro-Mobile Studio

  • By Charles Cox, Founder & CEO of 4gency
  • Users are not an acquisition strategy
  • Going viral is not easy
  • 4gency.com has post mortems
  • Game dev is difficult to get right. Making a game, and marketing it can be considered a $25,000 education… not necessarily a profitable one.
  • Find your niche

Designing for Mass Niche Audiences

  • By David Kim, Co-Founder & CEO of Animoca
  • You need to be aware that you can design for demographics, geographics, and interest/lifestyle
  • If you design your game to be appreciated by 1% of Americans, 1% of Canadians, 1% of Japanese, 1% of Chinese etc etc it quickly adds up to be millions of people.
  • Basically, you shouldn’t be afraid to target a niche and go for it. Things don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t appeal to everyone. But you need to tell your niche that your product exists.

The New Face of Skill Gaming

  • By Wim Stocks, Virgin Gaming -> Mark Donovan, President of Xfire -> Andrew Paradise, CEO and Founder of Skillz -> Cooper Moo, VP of Business Development at GSN Digital
  • This is all about competitive gaming, such as with games like Halo
  • It’s about betting $ on matches
  • You should be able to play competitive games online for prizes. This is the equivalent of telling your buddy “I bet you $5 I can kick your ass in Halo”. This is unfortunately not legal everywhere.
  • This is about real $ gaming, not just credits for in-game purchases, however you should be aware that if there is any way to redeem in-game credits for real $ you are gambling with real $.
  • Tournaments should be habitual
  • Skill based games are looking to increase in China. China really loves that style of gaming versus America’s passion for slot machines
  • expecting to increase to be a $671m industry by end of year (or greater pending laws that are being considered)
  • E-Athletics is a thing, and gamers can now get the same visas as athletes
  • Need the angry birds of skill based competitions to help explode the market
  • Need to convince people that it isn’t gambling
  • Fair Matches via ranking is necessary for -everyone- to ensure that n00bs don’t play against pros
  • -If people lose a lot, they’ll stop playing
  • Trying to create a pay-per-play scene basically, where people don’t withdraw money. This is what most online gambling sites have achieved

Releasing on Consoles: From Business to Coding

  • By Brian Provinciano, Founder of Vblank Entertainment
  • Each SKU counts as a release. You’ll need separate contracts for Sony US/EU/Japan etc
  • Retro City Rampage ended up with about $10 per unit after discounts
  • 170k Units sold in the first 9 months
  • 1 person
  • $0 for marketing (ads) though did spend to attend conventions/hand swag
  • Comicon, E3, PAX -> travel expenses/swag. Didn’t pay for booths or ads
  • Consoles are lower risk, and less discount driven.
  • -He had more sales on steam, but more profit per unit from PSN
  • -launch promotions have weight
  • -there’s a more focused wudience
  • -better store placement
  • More to releasing than just development. Expect at least 1/3rd of your time to be spent on non-dev tasks
  • You’ll need to do task juggling
  • You’ll need to get certified
  • -This is extensive
  • -Documentation required
  • –Documents must be in the national languages wherever you release. Engligh, French, Spanish are the minimum for North America
  • PEGI /  ESRB
  • -costs add up
  • Steam and Vita are the best goals to target for profit
  • Brian has slides on his website

Game Design Vs. Game Marketing: Battle Round

  • By Eyal Rabinovich, VP Marketing at PlayScape -> Tom Hess, Lead Product Manager at DeNA
  • Essentially, marketing is a tool to serve the business
  • -Marketing is just the message
  • You need to communicate a message
  • 1% of games succeed… you need marketing to get discovered
  • You need monetization to succeed
  • You can’t market without a product, but your product won’t sell if you don’t market it
  • Design & Marketing are on pretty equal footing. You cannot rely on one to carry you.
  • Referring to big spenders as “whales” dehumanizes people… you are addicting people… is free-to-play ethical?